The University of Alaska and the union representing full-time faculty members at Kenai Peninsula College have declared impasse in contract negotiations and will meet with a federal mediator starting the first week in January.
The Alaska Community College Federation of Teachers represents about 300 University of Alaska employees across the state, including about 24 at KPC in Soldotna, a UA extension campus.
"We've had trouble reaching agreement on numerous contract provisions, as well as salary and benefits," said Beth Behner, UA director of labor and employee relations.
The primary concern in the negotiation process is money, said ACCFT President Bob Congdon. The university is offering a 2.6 percent raise for all ACCFT members, but Congdon said that's not enough to fix the problems in the university's salary system.
He said salary inequity is a major problem for the employees the union represents.
"Salaries at the University of Alaska are below the national averages," he said.
According to research the union provided, UA faculty members make about $10,321 a year less than the national average.
Business and accounting professor Dayne Clark, the KPC campus representative to the union, agreed. He noted that faculty members who joined the KPC staff since the college merged with UA in 1987 make considerably lower wages than longer-term employees and have no way to move up in the salary scale.
"At the University of Alaska, in the student catalog, it says an average person with a baccalaureate degree makes about $62,000 a year. We have people with master's degrees making less than $40,000 a year teaching," he said. "We're supposed to be a institution of higher education. Education should increase earning power."
Congdon said the union also is concerned about internal salary inequities in the university system. For example, he said, there are cases of eight-year tenured associate professors making less than a new assistant professor on a non-tenure track.
"The longer you work here, the more you lose," he said. "What we're proposing is a predictable and fair method to determine salaries for new and existing faculty. The management apparently doesn't want that."
Congdon said the union's salary proposal would cost about $3 million in the first year to fix salary inequities and an additional $600,000 for the following two years in increment increases for employees.
Behner, however, said the union's salary analysis is not accurate and that the proposed raises are not possible.
"We don't consider (their comparisons to salaries in Outside universities) accurate," she said. "The data they're comparing themselves to is mostly Ph.D.-granting institutions. We've done some evaluations ourselves, using community college faculty in the Lower 48, and we compare very favorably."
She also said the university has had no problem attracting or retaining employees, implying the salary scale is competitive enough to keep employees in the system.
"We have a low turnover rate and most of our hiring is done within the state," she said. "Some positions are harder to fill than others, but most are no problem."
The university and union also are grappling with non-financial contract points, such as workload assignments, evaluation processes and the grievance process.
"Almost everything is on the table," Behner said. "Only three items have been tentatively agreed on."
That fact is a concern for Clark and Congdon.
For example, Clark said that in the last few years, the university system has shifted, taking control of academic programs and curriculum away from teachers and giving the power to professional administrators.
"What we've seen in negotiations is that (the university) wants professional administrators to have more say in academic programs than the people with expertise in that area," he said.
Clark said such problems are just now starting to reach KPC, which has been isolated from some policy changes in the university system. But, he said, the shifting tide needs to be stemmed before it goes too far.
Congdon agreed, explaining that many of the contract changes proposed by the university go beyond the norm.
"Management has come in with not only unrealistically low salary offers, but also attempts to dilute collective bargaining," Congdon said. "They're making wholesale reductions to faculty rights. After three months, we're not even at the current contract we're working under."
The union and university have met for bargaining sessions twice a week since September with little luck. The teams had a joint agreement to declare impasse if negotiations were not complete by Dec. 1, and the contracts now go before a federal mediator starting in January. The ACCFT is the first of several unions who will bargain with the university for new employee contracts this year.
"We just hope the mediation process will go smoothly," Clark said.
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